Wandsworth and Merton leaders say increase 'impossible to justify'
Queensmere on Wimbledon Common. Picture: Ben Brooksbank
October 6, 2023
Efforts to persuade the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators to reconsider a 25% rise in the levy they charge have been increased.
The leaders of both Wandsworth and Merton Councils have issued a statement describing the increase as ‘impossible to justify’.
The statement says, “Whilst we continue to work directly with the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC), we are deeply disappointed that they are still pushing for a minimum 25 per cent rise in the bills they charge for maintaining their open spaces. This comes in addition to the last increase of just under 13 per cent.
“We are fully aware of the pressure residents are under in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and the scale of this proposed increase is impossible to justify. As responsible councils we simply cannot support another increase on that level.
“If you are a local resident subject to this extraordinary tax, we would urge you to respond to the public consultation to ensure your voices are heard.”
In addition Wandsworth leader Simon Hogg has written to DEFRA Minister Therese Coffey demanding that she use her power to block the increase. Her specific consent is required for the Conservators’ plan to proceed.
Cllr Hogg branded the conservators plans as “wholly unacceptable” in his letter to the Government saying, “I am writing to confirm that Wandsworth Council does not support WPCC’s proposed uprating of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Special Levy by 25%. I understand that this increase would be in addition to the inflationary increase that the WPCC apply at the maximum level every year already, so residents’ bills could rise by almost a third under their proposals.
“We have offered to work with the WPCC to find efficiencies given the council itself maintains a number of its own open spaces, but this offer has not been taken up.
“With high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis affecting everyone in Wandsworth, it is more important than ever that residents’ bills are kept as low as possible. That is why Wandsworth Council froze the main rate of council tax in 2023-24.
“I hope you can reassure the Council and residents in Wandsworth that you intend to reject this request which is wholly unacceptable.”
These points have also been made in a letter to Diana Neil Mills who chairs the commons conservators. Councillor Hogg points out, “Wandsworth Council opposed the 12.6% rise that you imposed in your levy last year. There are no circumstances in which increasing your levy by a further 25%, in addition to future rises at the rate of inflation, can be justified. It certainly is not justified now during the cost-of-living crisis.
“Many of the parks, commons and green spaces that the Council maintains are award-winning, with six open spaces being awarded a Green Flag this year. We have managed and funded them throughout many years of public sector austerity.
“Despite these financial challenges, public sector organisations have had to innovate and create efficiencies into our ways of working that don’t negatively impact on residents. I reiterate my previous offer of cooperative assistance to you so that you can manage the commons effectively instead of issuing ever-rising bills to Wandsworth residents.”
The conservators charge residents an annual levy to pay for the upkeep of Wimbledon Common, Putney Common and Putney Heath.
The levy is charged to households living close to Wimbledon Common and also those in the old parish of Putney which includes much of Roehampton and is collected through council tax bills. It is paid by residents living in the boroughs of Wandsworth, Merton and Kingston. In total more than 28,000 Wandsworth households are charged the levy.
The conservators have launched a public consultation on their plans which concludes on October 29. Residents subject to the levy are being urged to take part and have their say on the proposals.
The Conservators have said the ‘difficult decision’ to increase the charge was unavoidable and if the proposed future increase is approved this will provide an extra £375,000 a year which will support the annual costs associated with the Commons’ Masterplan, balance WPCC’s operating budget, and finance works to buildings and the landscape that have been deferred due to budget constraints.
The Conservators are also organising a series of public meetings to provide an opportunity to meet the WPCC team, ask questions and learn more about the levy consultation. The consultation will close on 29 October.
A map of the levy area can be found below:
If you think that you live in the levy-paying area but have not received any documentation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone on 020 8788 7655.
A copy of the consultation document can be found here. Consultation Document
Opportunities to meet the WPCC team, ask questions and learn more about the levy and consultation will be held in the following locations:
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